THE OPENING DAY of the new campaign – a time to forget the shortcomings of last year and hope that, this season, things will be different.
There is also the excitement around summer acquisitions. Will your new striker take to English football like a duck to water or is he destined for the scrapheap alongside names like Alfonso Alves, Massimo Maccarone and Lilian Laslandes?
After bringing in one of the league’s best up-and-coming managers to replace club legend Kenny Dalgleish, Liverpool fans had good reason to be optimistic going into today’s meeting with West Brom.
Brendan Rodgers, who won plaudits for the manner in which his Swansea side went about their business during a maiden Premier League voyage last time out, has made all the right noises in pre-season and even brought along passing machine Joe Allen to help instil his attractive style of play.
The first half at The Hawthorns began promisingly with the Welsh midfielder having a 97% pass rate and Luis Suarez making (but wasting) a series of chances, but it all turned sour with a piece of brilliance from the Baggies’ Hungarian midfielder Zoltan Gera just before the break.
West Brom were then awarded two penalties as things went from bad to worse in the second half. The Reds went down to ten men after Daniel Agger received his marching orders and on loan Chelsea striker Romelu Lukaku was sprung from the bench to compile Liverpool’s misery.
As is always the case when the Merseyiders are beaten in the first month or two, that old joke of ’don’t worry, there’s always next year’ has been littering social media timelines in the wake of the defeat. It’s a cheap gag to make and writing off the new regime after one loss would be silly as Rodgers will be awarded time to leave his stamp on the team.
The games come thick and fast, however, and the Reds face Manchester City, Arsenal and Manchester United in the space of a month.
Looking at the other side of the coin, the game spelt an excellent victory for Steve Clarke, who not so long ago was sitting on the Liverpool bench but has opted to make the step up after years as second in command.
Swansea’s Great Dane
Rodgers’ old team Swansea may have been fearing for the worse when the Northern Irish boss departed but he will be soon forgotten if his replacement Michael Laudrup can bring more days like today for the Welsh outfit.
The Danish boss oversaw a 5-0 thrashing away to QPR and, to make it all the more satisfying, a couple of his recent recruits had pivotal roles in the result. As well as their manager, the Swans have been stripped of arguably two of their best players, Allen and Gylfi Sigurdsson, but in Michu and Jonathan de Guzman early signs suggest they have found adequate replacements.
On a day of extreme highs and lows, Chris Hugton’s return to the Premier League did not go according to plan as Fulham put five past Norwich without reply. The Canaries surprised many by holding their own under Paul Lambert but, after keeping influential players like Grant Holt and Wes Hoolahan, let’s not hope for the former Ireland international’s sake that the group aren’t struck down by ‘second season’ syndrome, as many have predicted.
By all accounts, it has not been the most pleasant week for Arsene Wenger. First his captain leaves for one of his club’s biggest rivals, then Barcelona come looking for one of his defensive midfielders. A 0-0 draw with Sunderland was the best the Gunners could muster up today.
Although you have to take into account that it was his first competitive action in England, there was a worrying sign in the second half when substitute Olivier Giroud, who will ultimately be tasked with filling RVP’s boots, was played through and, with just Simon Mignolet to beat, shot wastefully wide.
One positive, however, was the performance of Santi Cazorla. The Spanish midfielder was everywhere and already looks a steal at €22m.
In the evening kick-off, Newcastle continued on from the excellent form of last season with a home win over Andre Villas-Boas’s Spurs. A 2-1 win for the Magpies was the outcome and encouragingly, Demba Ba found the back of the net for the first time in six months – when his free-scoring compatriot Papisse Demba Cisse arrived on Tyneside.
A note on Sam Allardyce, who no doubt will afford himself a smile this evening. Turfed out by Blackburn not so long ago, he was replaced by Steve Kean but after automatic promotion with West Ham, saw his side beat Aston Villa 1-0 today. Rovers, meanwhile, began life in Championship.